How to Create a Canal in Your Garden
I'm not talking Venetian style canals but a small canal, watercourse or rill running across your leisure garden can do a lot to enhance the look and quality as much as it can present a really unusual feature for the visitor.
A garden canal is about a foot (30cm) wide and around the same depth and simply cuts across a lawn, paved or planting area in whatever shape you like. The idea is to make it look like a canal by having sharp, crisp sides but there is no reason why you cannot create something that is more of a stream if you wish.
A garden without water is a little like a book without pictures, it seems to come alive once they are added and a water feature will transform and enhance both the look and enjoyment in ways that you didn't think possible.
Where to put your canal
Like any water feature, siting a canal requires considerable thought before you start excavation.
Firstly, does your garden slope? Canals are built on level ground but it is possible to have a water feature on a slight slope so long as you have something into which it can drain and then a pump to take the water back to the top again. Obviously, this is more complex but so long as the slope is not too steep it is easy to accomplish since pumps for water features can be found at any garden merchant.
If your garden is more or less level then a stationary canal can be built although there is nothing to prevent you adding a pump to create a current of water.
To make the canal more interesting you can use it to connect pools or small ponds or to expand into a pool as it progresses on its way.
For most people, having constructed a water feature, the next job is to put in a bridge over the top. Again, this is little problem since bridges can be purchased or built in situ but it is a good idea to include provision for them in the design. Another idea is to have a tunnel under some existing feature like an area of rising ground or even a wall or fence. This is accomplished by using piping to carry the water and is not hard to do.
If you propose to illuminate the canal, make sure that low voltage electricity can be obtained and think about the best place to position lights.
Lastly, the wildlife in your garden will also appreciate the water, especially if you are able to make small, shallower areas at the side to allow easy access for bathing and drinking.
Things to think about
It is probably not a good idea to excavate a canal too near the house or close to fences or borders and certainly not where it is possible for a visitor to catch a foot and trip.
Water and electricity don't mix so make sure that you keep them well apart and if you have pumps and lights in the water ensure that you understand about safety and abide by any recommendations.
Finally, don't put water features in gardens that are used by young children and make sure that any visiting children are well supervised.
How to build it
If you want your canal to be a sturdy and permanent feature then you want it built of brick and concrete. On the other hand if you want something less expensive, equally good looking but perhaps not so long lasting, then you can use a plastic liner. Alternatively look for pre-built water courses which, a few years ago, were all the fashion.
Whatever method of construction you use, the preparatory work is the same. Begin by drawing a plan on paper before you mark out the work area outside. Now excavate a few inches deeper than you will actually need, using wooden pegs to ensure a level floor.
At this point make absolutely certain that the site is level, or has the correct slope, as errors at this stage will cause big problems later.
Now line the bottom of the trench with sand or with a mixture of hardcore and sand on top, using the levelling pegs to get the level absolutely right.
If you are using concrete, you can now pour in the mixture, using a template to get the correct shape and leave to dry. If you are using a plastic liner, simply position this over the canal and slowly and carefully push down to form the shape. Ensure that there are no wrinkles left when you finish.
In either case, it is a good idea to go over the edges of the canal with small tiles or thin bricks as capping stones to create a tidy edge. This will also prevent soil and rubbish from falling in. If you use a liner then this will hide the edge of the plastic from view. As soon as you have finished, and any concrete is dry, you can fill with water and test the pumps and lights.
As for maintenance, check from time to time to keep the canal free of objects that may have dropped in, but aside from this there should be little more that needs to be done.
Enjoying your canal
A canal or network of canals, linking other water features is a great asset to any garden that will create hours of pleasure both for you, your family and your visitors. Sitting beside water in a garden on a warm day is wonderful and the cost involved and time required in creation is small compared to the pleasure your canal will give.